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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Ask Orthonomics: Choices for the Young Man Learning

Dear Orthonomics,

I have a 17 year old son who has graduated HS, loves to learn and is actually quite good at it. He was also quite good at his secular studies and understands that he will be going to College and will IYH support his own family post-marriage. His RW yeshiva (hat and jacket/white shirt/etc) allows College, so at least that is not an issue. But here is the challenge:

He plans on learning until marriage and most likely even a year (2?) after that. So if everything went according to plan (and don’t get me started about how nothing ever goes according to plan, between my career as an [nicely paid professional] that only happened because my ‘plan’ fell apart, my wife’s career that only occurred because her ‘plan’ fell apart, and our 4 children though we had none after years of trying which included major medical assistance, I may be the king at being able to explain the posuk “Rabos machshavos B’lev ish) he goes to work in say 8 years.

His options are:
a) Go to College now, get it over with in 3-4 years, then sit and learn until he has to try to find a job
b) Don’t go to College yet, and start in 4 years (an idea I hate since it is too likely that in 4 years he will say “no”)
c) Start now, take it slow, take a year off, etc and finish up just as he plans on entering the work force

Assuming I reject idea (b) {he is smart enough to listen to me as long as I am paying his bills}. He is left with (a) and (c). Is there anyone out there who has insight into which option may be better? Does anyone have another option even better than these?


A Father

Dear Father,

You present two choices for the learner who is expected to be independent within an extended, yet still short, period of time, choice a and c. Each option has its pitfalls, and I don't think these are the only choices. For example, it might be wise to help him arrange different opportunities to help him determine a career path while/before he starts taking classes. You rightfully worry that after learning he might decide to not pursue a degree at all. On the flip side, many students take the easy way out during college by going for an "easy major" without having a career path in mind. Clearly, you want him to reach financial independence, so I think the real goal isn't how to complete a bachelor's, but how to ensure he develops his academic talents and enters the workforce.

But, since I do like to at least attempt to answer questions posed, I think choice a (complete a degree and then continue in long term learning) will leave a gap between the education and its application, one that might make potential future employees wary. I'm really uncertain which the better of the two choices is, but I guess I lean towards choice c, get started, take some time off to learn (perhaps coupled with some shadowing in the workplace) and then finishing up with a flourish.

Now I'd like to concentrate on addressing a bigger philosophy. It sounds as though you are guiding your son regarding expectations, but worry about the "market forces" he might encounter along the way, leaving you wondering how to best guide him. I believe you partially alluded to that in writing, "he is smart enough to listen to me as long as I am paying his bills."

Beyond helping him determine the best way to continue learning while pursuing a degree, I think the thing that needs to be made most clear is that, while you are happy to make it possible for him to continue learning for an extended amount of time, he must simultaneously be responsible to prepare for financial independence. There should be no guessing game as to the timeline to reach such a goal and/or milestones need to be met along the way. I don't think you should necessarily dictate how he goes about getting from point a to point b, but he need to know soon you will not be paying his bills!

In the past, I wrote a post "Better and Worse Ways to Help Adult Children." I believe that post is worth revisiting because it discusses better and worse ways to provide adult children with assistance. In short, I think it important to allow freedom with boundaries, and don't make your assistance backfire by making things too comfortable through faulty or overly fluid arrangements. Any arrangement made should promote independence, not foster dependence. And, while you want to make him comfortable enough to meet his goals in learning and academics, he should be so comfortable that his natural motivation to gain independence is sapped.

Hope that helps. I'm certain my readers will have plenty of relevant advice on how to help a young man in learning best transition to the workplace, financial independence, and supporting a family.



rosie said...

We actually have the same situation with our youngest who is 21, still in yeshiva, and not sure what he wants to do for parnassah. Long term learning after marriage is not an option, nor is he interested in that if if would be an option. When people tell him he would be great in chinuch, it views that as an insult. Toward the end of this year, we intend to explore his options with him.

Mark said...

Perhaps a good solution is to go to college roughly on a 2/3 schedule and learn the rest of the day. Then with a little hard work, you can graduate college in 6 years. And as a bonus, during that time, he should also be able to get semicha!

RTJ said...

Option A is the way to go.

I can't keep count of the number of friends I have who pushed off college, and found that after they got married and had kids the pressure for parnasah so great that they had to go for the quickest possible degree, limiting earning and life satisfaction forever.

JS said...

I guess I should apologize in advance since I'll probably tick some people off with this response, but I think it needs to be said.

You put your kid on a path that is completely antithetical to the goal of one day supporting a family and then you ask how, nonetheless, he can still support a family. You then present 3 equally lousy options and ask which is best. It's like asking, "I'm going to take some poison, but I want to live a long life, so should I take all the poison before my meal, after my meal, or intersperse it during my meal?" Umm, how about not taking the poison at all? Or, how about at least admitting you don't really want a long life, you're just paying lip service to it?

Going to a yeshiva that "allows college" and obtaining the kind of education and work experience that will one day allow someone to support a family is almost laughable. Sure, some manage to do it, but look at the vast majority of people in your son's program. What path do they go on to? Are they successfully supporting a family without any outside assistance or are they getting money from the in-laws, have an inheritance, or some governmental assistance?

Things are uncertain in life, so you need to play the odds. Going down this path is not playing the odds. You're hoping your kid ends up an outlier. The likely path here is your son starts learning, takes that far more seriously than college (if he goes at all), gets put into the shidduch "parsha", gets married quickly, has a kid just as fast, and when he finally realizes how completely messed up his financial picture is, it's way too late. Oh, and don't forget that in a yeshiva that "allows college" it's not the preferred option, there's a lot of peer pressure against it, and the yeshiva makes it nearly impossible to find a decent college or have time to study adequately.

In scenarios like this, I like to find a "secular equivalent" and see how well that flies. So, substitute "learning" with "watching lots and lots of TV." Heck, assume watching TV is just as worthwhile as learning. So, should you go to college and find spare time later to watch TV, or should you first watch TV for a few years and then go to college, go to college and then watch TV for a few years, or go to college part-time and watch TV the rest of the time? Ridiculous, no? Well, watching TV is just as valuable to an employer and one day earning income for your family as learning Torah. There, I said it. It's true. Maybe you don't like it, but it's true. If you really want your son to be self-sufficient and you're not just paying lip service to this, you need to come to grips with that.

How about this for a radical idea? Go to a good college and arrange your classes so you can finish your coursework early and then study for a few hours a day in a beis medrash? Or, how about you go to college, get a job, and learn in the evenings in your spare time? Why does all the learning need to be done now at the worst possible time? Why can't you learn full-time when you retire? Oh, because the way we set up frum finances with ensuring poverty from a young age and then having to support your own kids means you never get to retire.

Actuary in NY said...

Wow JS, I don't know what circles you travel in but every single one of my friends went to yeshiva during the day, college at night (a RW yehiva that "allowed" college), and got jobs post marriage (though to be truthful, some in chinuch). Some actuaries, some accountants, and some lawyers (who went to Law School post marriage or after 5 years of bais medrash/college). As far as I know, not one regrets the decision to spend the majority of their day in yeshiva.

The fact that you can even compare learning Torah to watching TV says everything that need be said about your hashkafah. Good thing I am not the site owner because I would remove your post, as it borders on heresy.

Of course if you were just talking about the comparison from the "goyishe" perspective I still think you are wrong. Many that hire in NY are not shocked by young men who learned Torah - some of the managers in my field (actuarial) did it themselves or have children doing it.

(True story: years ago my boss, a non-observant jew, interviewed a Kollel man trying to join the workforce, and then asked me to interview him as well. My thoughts were "blah; he's been in yeshiva for 10 years, how is he going to study for actuarial exams now?" My boss told me "I bet he'd be great. he's been studying non stop for 10 years. How hard can exams be compared to Talmud!" So I kept my mouth shut, they hired him and today he is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries.)

JS said...


I wouldn't think I would have to explain this to someone who deals in statistics and probabilities every day, but you tell me, honestly, if going to a yeshiva that "allows college" makes you more likely or less likely than being able to support a frum family without outside assistance. You don't suppose you're maybe making a sampling error by just looking at your friends? Also, are those in chinuch really able to support their families without outside help? Those I know in chinuch certainly can't. I think you also need to take into account we're likely talking about a son who will have a family of at least 4 kids, likely more.

I suppose it all depends what yeshiva we're talking about, some may be better than others at "allowing college." My brother in law took a brief trip down RW lane and went to such a yeshiva and was denigrated by his peers in yeshiva for wasting time on college instead of going to night shiur. The yeshiva wouldn't let computers so that made homework and writing papers more difficult. He also had to go to an "approved" local college that was worse than the diploma mills everyone complains about. Thankfully, he left, found a way of going to college and learning in his spare time and will soon be making a very respectable salary.

As for my "heresy", your attitude reflects all that is wrong in Orthodoxy. If someone disagrees, they're a heretic. If they say anything remotely against the current Orthodoxy lifestyle, they're a heretic. If they point out that there are better ways of doing things, they're a heretic. And then of course everyone wonders why there's so much conformity even as everyone is suffering from it.

I'm sorry, but I stand by what I said, from an employer's perspective someone who learns Torah for several years is just as valuable as someone who sat and watched TV for several years.

tesyaa said...

I'm surprised by Actuary's comment. Sure, there are some people who succeed as an actuary despite long-term learning, but there are also people who succeed in hedge funds despite long-term learning (I can think of one). But it's not the best career path, and it doesn't put you on the fast track. Why does a frum male have to be on the fast track, you wonder? Well, he has to if he wants any hope of supporting a large family and sending the kids to private. (Unless he uses the fact that he got behind the 8-ball financially to parlay a tuition scholarship.)

Plus, nowadays companies are looking for actuaries who not only can pass exams, but have business skills and the ability to communicate. They may even have to go to business lunches and shake hands with women.

Mother of 17 year old said...

I too can't understand how you can equate watching TV with learning Torah and still call yourself an orthodox jew.
As for employers, at least in NYC they do not equate learning with TV watching. My friend's husband is a lawyer who took a few years off after law school and a clerkship to learn in a yeshiva and his employer hired him and wrote up the fact that he had spent the last several years studying the Talmud, one of the oldest law books. He is already a partner after just a few years of employment, meaning he probably makes a far greater income than you do.
As far as the yeshiva that allows college, my son's yeshiva has graduates that are doctors, lawyers, accountants, actuaries, etc.
As far as learning later, these years are the prime time to lay a foundation of Torah learning for a lifetime. As the mishna in Avot says (paraphrasing) don't say when I am old I will learn, maybe you wont get there.

I wonder if you would ask any currently working man who went to yeshiva during the day and college at night whether he regrets the choice, I would doubt you would find even one. Yes those that totally shun secular education until they are past marriage and have a few children will mostly all regret it, we are not referring to that situation. What we are talking about is a boy who is preparing for a profession (maybe even an actuary) so that at the point where he has to enter the workforce he has the skills to do so.

Sorry for rambling

Mike S. said...

On the other hand even if you go to college and take a major that prepares one for a career. There are no guarantees. My son spent 4 years studying actuarial math, passed some of the exams, but graduated when the market for actuaries was tanking. Not only he, but many of his classmates are still looking for a first full-time position.

tesyaa said...

So, if learning is very important, what is wrong with learning in the day and going to a city college at night? Many of our zaydies worked during the day and went to school at night. This way you can learn and get a degree at the same time.

Why is learning not allowed to be accompanied by anything else? Why must it be free of "distractions" like preparing to earn a living? A boy who has to spend many years "only" learning is being coddled by someone. Trust me, our grandparents didn't get this luxury.

Mother of 17 year old said...

I am not sure what shaking hands has to do with this discussion, I am sure if he has to shake hands then he will and if he can avoid it then he will avoid it. He has good command of the English language, both written and spoken. (He probably got a higher SAT score than anyone reading this post)

As for the fast track, starting salaries for actuaries are around $60,000, I think that is enough for a young man married for a year or two. And as you pass exams your salary increases. Please don't confuse this with someone planning to stay in kollel for 10 years or more, who wakes up with a large family and no means of support.

Mother of 17 year old said...

Tesyaa, I responded to your first post, but now while I see the second, you are agreeing with what we are proposing to have him do (learn by day, school at night). The only question is how to go about it. Do you finish as quickly as possible, or do it slowly so that you are finished closer to when you want to start working?

tesyaa said...

Mother of 17 year old, I really don't understand the question. If he really wants to be an actuary, there's no problem. If he finishes college "early" (a concept I don't understand; no one can predict the future date of his marriage or when he's had "enough" learning), he can take actuarial exams even before he starts working. Note, though, that employers won't give him promotions just based on exams; work experience counts too.

At a company I'm familiar with, a lot of starting actuarial students come in with a ton of exams they've taken in college. They don't get promoted any quicker than people with fewer exams (although they get monetary rewards for passing exams). That's because a lot of them need to develop their business knowledge and skills - in other words, they need to learn on the job.

Finally, note that there's a lot of competition for entry level actuarial jobs. Foreign students often have great technical skills because they get a better quantitative education in their home countries than American children get.

JS said...


Way to make your point with the schoolyard taunt of "he probably makes more money than you do." Is that a Torah value? I point out a simple fact that the average employer couldn't care less if you sat and learned Gemara or sat and watched TV for a few years and I'm outside and the pale, a heretic, and un-Orthodox, but you can taunt me and God forbid I cast aspersions on your religiosity.

I'll say this for the last time, your examples are meaningless. I'm glad you know some success stories from people who went to yeshiva that "allowed college." Heck, you get a large enough pool of people together, you're bound to find some success stories. Tell me who is more successful on average, who is able to support a family on their own better, the person who went to yeshiva that "allowed college" or the person that went to college outright? If the son is truly as intelligent as the father in the post claims and truly as good at "secular" studies, I would assume he could get into a good college if he applied himself. So, good college or yeshiva that "allows college" - which is more likely to allow you to support a family?

You know, good colleges have lots and lots of graduates who are doctors, lawyers, actuaries, and accountants. Think a yeshiva that "allows college" has a comparable percentage of such graduates?

As for your husband's friend, he's an outlier. Simple as that. Maybe one in a million. I could share at least 10 stories from friends of mine that are attorneys that have interviewed such people and turned them down for a job - they were not impressed with their years of learning one of the oldest law books.

As for this stuff about a "foundation" is purely modern Orthodox culture. At no time in history in massive numbers of men engage in this kind of learning despite what Pirkei Avot may imply - in fact, such a modern reading of Pirkei Avot is laughable. Do you really think that mishnah means sitting and learning for several years before starting a job? Face it, such learning isn't as much a foundation as it is a luxury. At least acknowledge this. It's a luxury - you're trading a lifetime of higher earning potential for a few years of learning.

As for working men who regret going to such a yeshiva, you really think there are none? Come on. My brother in law is just one example - he's said to me many times if he had stayed in that yeshiva going to college at night he would have completely ruined his life.

behodsli said...

I think JS threw people off by the example of watching TV for 4 years. It's not a great example for this crowd. What if a student spent time studying ancient Latin or Greek and then applied for a job that wasn't in academia? His prospects wouldn't be great. On another blog, someone pointed out that an undergraduate degree in psychology is completely useless if you want to get a job without further education. JS could've used an example that wouldn't offend so many people, but it certainly got the discussion going.

tesyaa said...

Sorry, behodsli was me (tesyaa) - I accidentally entered the word verification :)

tesyaa said...

The other thing I don't understand is the question about timing. Who can see the future? Who knows when marriage might come about? Who knows when and if a couple will be able to have children? Who knows when the source of funds supporting this child might dry up entirely and he'll be forced out into the work world?

conservative scifi said...

It will not be a suprise that I agree with JS, but my reasoning differs. I don't think you can simply boil down life to economics. That is, while it would be nice if every frum (and even conservative) Jew could earn enough to afford Day school tuition, given a workforce where the top 15% have household incomes (meaning both spouses) over $100,000, that probably isn't feasible.

Which means: Some frum people may have to compromise on lifestyle either way, if they don't want to live solely on assistance (which I think is a repulsive way to plan a life). If you would rather have a lower income, but the presumably superior yeshiva background that would allow you to self educate your children, I don't have a problem with that. Alternately, if you'd rather have the higher income, and be able to afford yeshiva, no problem.

My issue is with those who choose to learn, thereby choosing low incomes, but demand that others subsidize this choice by subsidizing their expenses like tuition. That is simply stealing.

tesyaa said...

conservative scifi: you should also not be surprised that the learning crowd disagrees with you about the stealing. After all, they are the only reason the earth is still in existence. Don't you get it??

Mother of 17 year old said...

JS, I don't think that our friends are all outliers. All of them went to yeshiva by day and college at night. Every last one of them. And even the ones in chinuch have college degrees in accounting. In our RW circles it is unheard of for a boy to go to college full time during the day. Heck, for many college is a dirty word even by itself.

In the actuarial field at least, you can do just as well with a degree from Queens college or gasp! Tuoro as any where else. In any event under no circumstances would I send a 17 year old away to a college dorm. That is just my opinion. So he is going to be learning in the day and going to school at night. The only question is how to do it - fast, slow, in between, etc. Also realize that we won't be paying much for college since he will either go to Queens or Brooklyn or Tuoro (where he should qualify easily for a large merit scholarship)

Graduate schools is more important, for example, you need to go to a top law school to get a job in a top firm.

I agree about the stealing too, that is one of the arguments we are using to make sure our son understands that his responsibility is to provide for his family and not to mooch off the inlaws or whatever. Obviously we are unwilling to allow him to mooch off of us.

Maybe we are being naive. But somehow it worked out for us, we are hoping that it will work out for him too. There are no guarantees either way. We all know highly qualified professionals that are out of work, and people who you would consider idiots that are raking in the dough. But we have to do the best we can.

Miami Al said...


Instead of watching TV, how about a secular counter-part.

A friend of a friend decided to travel small villages in Scotland learning Gaelic, working odd jobs along the way. He worked building stone walls without mortar, called dyking. He has very cool stories from that time period, but in terms of moving himself towards supporting a family, he accomplished nothing.

Many students spend a summer backpacking Europe. One could have great stories from that. Change that to 2-3 years instead of a summer and you have an equivalent.

Ages 14-25 have a disproportionate impact on your life long earning power. Deciding that those MUST be spent engaged in self indulgence (which full time learning is) is counter productive. However, I agree 100% with JS, you set your child down this path, then list a few options that are pretty mediocre...

Look, there are professional tracks where college doesn't matter... they happen to be decent earning paths in NYC. They apparently only work for the super brilliant, but I guess everyone is.

If I hired someone in a legal role with that background, of course I'd highlight that. If he spent 2 years helping poor children in Ireland, I'd highlight that to. If he went to Harvard, I'd highlight that.

If you hire someone, of course you highlight the best points, you hired them, clearly you think that they are good.

Whatever, to each their own, but if you push off college until after marriage/kids, you are WAY more likely to drop out from financial pressure. I also think that the night "college" approach I'm seeing here is losing the opportunity for a real education, but the Orthodox world doesn't really want people to get a real education, so be it.

Random 3 AM conversations with friends in the dorm was a HGUE part of the college experience, and exposed me to different viewpoints. That exposure definitely makes me better at understanding different points of view, but it is also threatening to people who have moved Orthodoxy from "accepting the binding nature of Mitzvot" to a VERY narrow world view based on a fantasy of 18th century Europe, but hey, hope it works out for everyone.

tesyaa said...

Random 3 AM conversations with friends in the dorm was a HGUE part of the college experience, and exposed me to different viewpoints.

Al - in the RW world you're not supposed to be exposed to other viewpoints - might lead to kefira, you know. The fact that being exposed to diversity might help you navigate the work world better. Just the idea that you have to eat with people who aren't Jewish/don't keep kosher and that you have to respect their holidays also is surprising to a lot of people.

Ari said...

In terms of timing, I believe that doing fewer courses at a time and stretching it out is the best idea. Once he's in the middle, he'll finish, and no one can really concentrate all day on the same thing. The only reason to do full time learning would be if he planned on "staying in learning."

That being said, I think this whole discussion illustrates one of the big failures in Orthodoxy (IMHO). It creates drones. There's no exploration or liberal education (chas vesholom); there's not even half a thought about finding one's self or one's passion. You don't have to worry about how your son should prepare for his future career, because you already know he's going to be an accountant, actuary, or lawyer.

JS said...

tesyaa and Al,

The TV example could have been picked better, but I was looking for something to make my point - the vast majority of employers couldn't care less that you learned Torah for several years and may even view it as a liability. I imagine some may find it's interesting in the same way they find someone who ran the NYC marathon interesting: a conversation piece during an interview.

The average employer sees a no-name college that for some reason took 6 years to complete, or a 2-3 year gap before or after this no-name college and they're going to be suspicious. In this economy that means you don't get the job interview. Plenty of people who went to real colleges and took their "secular" education seriously to hire instead.

Can you get a good, high-paying job going this route? Sure, anything is possible. Is it probably though? I don't think so. I think at a minimum you're severely limiting your earning potential and setting any potential career track several years back. Even if you get that job, you'll be working much harder than your contemporaries at work as you struggle with several young children and yeshiva payments. Those are the makings of a very bitter and frustrating life.

It would be nice if people pursuing this path could just admit they're indulging in a luxury. It would be nice if they could admit they're making a trade off. But no, they won't admit either.

If I could be so bold as to suggest a blog post, it would be, "Things Orthodox People Don't Get":

1) Statistics, probability, and risk management - Orthodox people say "God helps those who help themselves" and talk about "hishtadlus" but ultimately believe that since everything comes from God only minimal effort is necessary. Or, at the very least, you can engage in a lifestyle and make choices that make you statistically very unlikely to, for example, earn enough money to support your large family just because someone knows some people who did what you're doing and are successful.

2) Things that are holy and spiritual and even things that are necessary for practicing Orthodoxy can also be luxuries. You can include yeshiva (private school) and kollel/learning (voluntary unemployment).

3) You can't complain about peer/social pressure and communal norms if you're one of the people shouting down alternative or opposing views as "heresy".

4) If you don't like the way things are done in your community, but you choose to live there and abide by its standards, you can't complain later when you don't like the outcome.

5) Choosing the best of bad options still leaves you with a bad option.

6) You can't put all of your emphasis, energy, time, and money into religious education at the expense of secular education and then wonder why it's so darn hard to make a good living.

7) You can't put off or delay college and a job in order to learn, get married young, have kids young, and then try to play catch up with your education and career and then wonder how things somehow got away from you.

Whatever. Enough. Even after reading this the same people will be wondering why things are so tough for them. Maybe they need to learn more?

Miami Al said...


Agreed. All of this teenage/twenty-something self indulgence, and I consider a year of "serious learning" to be no less indulgent than a year of backpacking Europe, even if it's holy, wouldn't be a problem if we weren't pushing early marriage/child bearing.

The couples/families that I know, in the MO World, are the couples that married after college (to their college significant other, or someone that they met later), and pushed off children for several years. They were married/together (the latter being more BTs, where dating for years pre-marriage was normal) for 4+ years before having their first child.

They did their graduate programs plus their paying their dues years pre-kids. If you have children in grad school, there is no way both spouses can pay their dues and establish their careers and parent their children.

Can you "make a decent income" and do that, sure, I guess, if you are a strong quantitative person and can make it up in grad school. However, not everyone can pull that off, and there is no margin for error with 4 kids in private school. If your housing + utilities + tuition + groceries is $7k-$8k/mo, there is no taking a year of working to go back to grad school and retool, there is no taking a year to try to launch a business, there is no flexibility anywhere.

And yes, you're right, the people that pursued that "Frum" track are financial disasters and generally miserable, and today's "tuition crisis" is tomorrow's "retirement crisis," because an entire generation of Frum youth were overindulged and spoiled, like the secular babyboomers were a generation earlier, and never took responsibility for their lives.

Today's MO world is wealthier than ANY OTHER generation, and their children are, in general, set up to do worse than their parents, and their parents bought them shiny things like years in Israel, and years of summer camp, instead of useful things like a fancy college, or housing for the summer while they got a good internship.

I think that the MO world's biggest accomplishment is setting up in greater NYC, so kids living at home (with their spouse and small children) can commute into one of the strongest job markets instead of elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

subtract the invective and js is right on.

Anonymous said...

Mother of 17 year old: When you say that you are teaching your son that he will have to provide for his family and not mooch of you or his in-laws, are you including his responsbility to pay full tuition if he chooses private school for his kids? Is choosing an educational/career path that does not minimize his chance of needing tuition assistance acceptable?

Anonymous said...

I think that full and intense immersion including the two a.m. debates with fellow students, etc. is important for both forms of education -- secular and religious. Therefore, I recommend one year of full-time learning post high school following by four-years (or three if the person can do it more quickly) years of full-time college combined with some evening learning, and no marriage until there is a degree and a job, and no kids until at least one of the parents completed any graduate program necessary for their chosen profession.

Gavra@work said...


Plain and simply not true. Many interviewers (including one of mine, a devout Catholic) are impressed with the disipline required to both study religion and a scientific field at the same time.

It (learning talmudic law at the same time as college) showed that I had a good work ethic, was able to think on my own, and logically move through an idea, all which I have used during the course of my career.

No question, learning Torah is a matter of priorities. For some (like Mo17) learning is the priority, and work is a means. For others (like JS), work is a priority, and learning is either not a requirement or is just simply a waste of time. That is more of a Hashkafic outlook, but has nothing to do with earning potential. Someone who enters the workforce at 25 vs. 22 will not be that much worse off that they will be unable to pay tuition (when the have to do so, 3-4 years later). Perhaps they will not get the vacation to the Bahamas, but we all sacrifice for what is important to us.

Father of THE 17 year old said...

In a nustshell, I asked which option would be better, as described in the post. By and large your answers are: NONE OF THE ABOVE, GET OUT OF YESHIVA NOW.
Well, none of the above is not one of the options, as strongly as you may feel about it. We will have to agree to disagree, but there is no way I am pulling my son out of yeshiva at 17 or 18 so that (maybe) he can get a better job later. Obviously we disagree on the level of "hishtadlus" - much like those to the right of me disagree with me and think 'no secular education at all' is an option.

The rants by JS on 'heresy' have nothing to do with the topic at hand, which was the choice of options for a Ben Torah who loves to learn, has parents who can support that decision for a limited number of years, and also understands he will need to support his family upon marriage.

JS was upset by being called a heretic for comparing TV to Torah...perhaps next time JS can use a better example and we can avoid the name calling.

Eli B. said...

"Random 3 AM conversations with friends in the dorm was a HGUE part of the college experience, and exposed me to different viewpoints."

How about hanging in the Shuk in Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon?

Or working a summer in Chinatown?

There is more than one way to become "exposed". A dorm college is not the only way.

Orthonomics said...

Father and Mother of the 17 year old,

My apologies that this thread has clearly swung out of control. I personally see no reason for a 17 year old high school graduate to leave Yeshiva now, or even later if he is engaged, motivated, and dedicated to his learning while taking steps towards financial independence.

Sure, full time learning is a luxury, but there are lots of healthy luxuries that we can allow our children to engage in during the young adulthood years if our means allow. I dont' know what a good comparison to learning is, because immersion is Torah is its own field that should garner its own respect.

(Lhavdil) I think a better comparison might be to high level athletics or honing a music skill. These activities are also luxuries that often require parental support and financial assistance, but they are worthwhile. They build tremendous discipline and can even provide an additional source of income down the road, to say nothing of lifetime enjoyment.

Perhaps I'm not particularly sophisticated, but career path for me is not the be all and end all. I think the question of how to pursue both goals is a good question. So, let's try to evaluate between those option or add in some point, as I did, about potentially shadowing/interning before full committal to the above career paths.

Anonymous said...

Whatever this parent decides, one thing I would definitely do is NOT support this young man 100%. If I were going to pay for his learning for a few years after high school, then he would have to get a part-time job, even if it's pumping gas or bagging groceries a few hours a night or on Sundays. It is very unhealthy for a young adult not to have some own responsbility for his/her financial well-being and not to be part of the real world. I would say the exact same thing to a parent supporting a child through college, although in that situation, jobs during semester breaks and the summer are an alternative to part-time jobs during the school year.

Anonymous said...

I went to the yeshiva in question.

I see my classmates as successful accountants, actuaries, doctors, dentists, and even a Rabbi.

Yes there are those who are still learning, but (in most cases) their parents can afford it, so it is their choice.

Some started college right after high school, others took some time to learn.

I don't see JS's argument, but perhaps where he lives things are different. Where I went to school it is normal to be successful both in learning and financially. I believe it is a product of the unique Rosh Yeshiva there.


RAM said...

My wife (before we met) got her degree in microbiology, but the death of her father made her quickly get a job outside her professional field to help support her family. A few years later, after we were married, she began to look for work as a microbiologist, but was turned down for being out of her field too long!! So, there may be other cases where it's best to get educated in one's professional field right before seeking a job, with no time gap in between. In such a case, a man who wants a yeshiva education should get that before his professional education, or concurrently with it.

tesyaa said...

RAM - good point; it's important to keep up with professional knowledge, and the only way an employer is sure of that is to see recent employment.

I'm surprised to see Orthonomics apologizing for her commenters - that's not usually her style. I've seen a lot worse threads on this blog, usually relating to wedding expenses.

Fact is, if you spend time full time learning, you are hurting your career prospects. That's your business - except it makes it very likely that the community will give you charitable support sooner or later, especially if you marry and have kids very young.

I still don't know why being Kovea Itim is not acceptable in conjunction with going to school full time. If you want to be a rabbi - teaching or a pulpit - then full time learning is your career preparation. For everyone else, it's a path to dependency. Sure there are exceptions, but exceptions prove the rule.

I'd be very interested to know how many of the full time learners who later became "successful" lawyers, accountants, and actuaries have always paid full tuition and never requested aid. If it's even as high as 50%, I'd be impressed.

Sorry to be so blunt. I used to think full time learning was great as a personal choice, if it floats your boat. When I realize how much the community supports people who are so dedicated to learning, I wonder what it's doing to our society, financially and morally.

JS said...


I'm happy to hear of your success. The thing is, some people will succeed no matter what obstacles or hardships you put in their path. Some people are just smart enough, dedicated enough, and tenacious enough that they can overcome all odds. My response is geared to the average, say 1 standard deviation around the mean (68%) for all the actuaries here. I'm just talking about how you can best set yourself up for success. The options asked about in the post are simply not the best options ON AVERAGE for someone who wants to support a large family without outside support. Someone who pursues these options should, at the very least, understand this. I'm bothered by the comments that say I know several people who did this and are successful today. Well, sure. But, it's sampling bias. How many more people pursued this path and are successful or are not fully self-sufficient? Just acknowledge that you're hurting your future chances of success.

It's like you said, it's a matter of priorities. Either learning is paramount or work is paramount. But, you have to choose. Only a lucky few get to "have it all" and then only through lots of hard work. The people I know who pursued this route were all a cut above their peers.

Finally, you said "Someone who enters the workforce at 25 vs. 22 will not be that much worse off that they will be unable to pay tuition (when the have to do so, 3-4 years later)." Are you assuming the person gets married latter and/or waits to have kids? If so, that changes things dramatically.

Anonymous said...

"I'd be very interested to know how many of the full time learners who later became "successful" lawyers, accountants, and actuaries have always paid full tuition and never requested aid. If it's even as high as 50%, I'd be impressed."

Beli Ayin Hara.

As well as my BILs (2), FIL & Parents.

Tessya, it really is a matter of outlook and planning. There is no reason why it can't be done. But it does have to be done right, and most people out there do it wrong, as you correctly point out.

Anon 9:16

tesyaa said...

I'm also surprised that people see full time learning by young adult males as a Jewish value and not simply the "Jewish version" of trends in American society, in which kids seem to stay dependent longer. As non-Jewish society goes, so goes our society. Better to recognize it than defend it as a hallmark of piety and frumkeit.

gavra@work said...

JS: From the comments by MO17, it seems like the child is anything but average.

Besides, I don't see how anyone average can support an orthodox family, starting college at 19, 22, or ever. The financial requirements are too high, unless you choose homeschooling, public school or financial support (which is not supporting the family).

tesyaa said...

Besides, I don't see how anyone average can support an orthodox family, starting college at 19, 22, or ever. The financial requirements are too high, unless you choose homeschooling, public school or financial support (which is not supporting the family).

DOESN'T THIS CONCERN ANYONE?? The frum community does not have enough fabulously wealthy people to keep things afloat financially if even an average person can't do it. As we know, there are also those who are below average (except in Lake Wobegon).

Cohen said...

Let me jump in here and try to sort through some of the shouting.

1) I think this point has already been clarified, but JS never meant to equate the value of watching TV with learning. He (I'm assuming it's a he) simply meant to emphasize a point about the perspective of a potential employer for whom learning is no more relavant to credentials than wathcing TV. The heresy attack, was an uncalled for red herring.

2) Having said that, JS, it is entirely reasonable that an employer could easily overlook having spent a couple of years learning the same way they might overlook a young grad who decided to spend a couple of year backpacking in the Himalayas.

3) I fully understand the poster who is simply trying to discern amongst a couple of similar options that all include trying to find a learn/study balance. I personally vote for option A.

4) This thread is spending too much time with people arguing about narrow personal experiences.

Another red herring.

What I think this discussion has lost sight of is that this isn't about whether Mother of a 17 year-old friends' expereicnes are typical. It is about ignoring a model that was followed sucessfully by thousands of young yehisvah bochurim throughout the 60's 70's and 80's. They all went to college at night while learning in yeshivah by day and be'ezras Hashem, it worked well for the overwhelming majority of them. Not only that but we consider these people to be fine b'nei torah and supoprters of Torah today.

The question we should be asking ourselves is why did we abandon that model and do we really think that what these men's children are doing - eschewing a college education - is somehow better and frummer.

I for one don't.

JS said...


I never said you should pull your kid out of yeshiva, just that by pursuing this route your kid has the odds stacked against him. I know far too many people that are unemployed or underemployed who did everything "right". This just isn't the best economy and success stories from years ago of people you pursued such a path may no longer be applicable.

What you're asking for is self-contradictory in the sense that you truly want your son to be self-sufficient, but you don't want him to pursue a path that makes that most likely to occur. Heck, even people that go to the best of colleges and graduate schools and have the best of jobs are finding it incredibly difficult to support a frum family on their own.

I'm sorry you feel my "rants" on heresy are off-topic, but I really don't appreciate being called a heretic for expressing an alternate point of view. If you don't like my opinion, attack the opinion, don't attack me.

Finally, I'll take the time to address your question as asked. It seems you have two fears behind your question: 1) You're afraid certain options will lead your son to reject college altogether; and 2) You're afraid certain options will lead your son to be unable to support a family on his own.

To begin with, if your son is not extremely bright, motivated, and a hard worker, this conversation is moot since it's hard for anyone who isn't those things to get ahead in life. Next, how dedicated is your son to the idea of being self-sufficient and supporting his family on his own? Again, if your son admires or envies those with familial support, those with governmental support, or those with communal support, you have a problem. You know your son best. You need to think about how well your son's personality and strengths jive with what he'll need to get ahead.

Personally, I think option B is the best, even though you have rejected it out of hand. If your son is truly dedicated to supporting a family on his own, this option is hands-down the best (and if he's not dedicated, you have larger problems with the whole approach). It is perfectly acceptable in "secular society" to take time off before college. In the secular world it's called "finding yourself." It's not the slightest of a liability and, in fact, can be viewed positively as someone taking the time to mature and find out what they really want to accomplish in life. Additionally, it gives a seamless transition from college to grad school (if that's in the cards) to work. Employers wants that continuity and want someone who is "fresh". It becomes infinitely harder to find a starting job after a "break" and employers are always curious what someone was up to when there's a gap of employment after college/grad school.

I already explained why option A is a bad idea. As for C, you risk not finishing at all. Further, while it's acceptable to "find yourself" before college, you look foolish if you "find yourself" in college. In general, no one wants to hire someone who took 6 years to graduate from college unless - you look immature and like you still haven't gotten it out of your system, so to speak.

Lastly, while your son is learning before college, I'd make sure he comes home often so you can try to control bad influences (such as those that may make him not want to go to college). I'd make sure he's keeping his priorities straight. Also, I'd make sure he had some kind of small job on the side just so he can maintain a focus on the real world and also realize what kinds of jobs are available to those without higher education.

JS said...


Spot on with #1.

As for #2, see my comment below yours. I go for option B for that reason.

Been there, done that said...

In my experience, the very best choice is C (start college now, do it slowly, and finish right before you’re ready to join the workforce).
Why? Here’s my experience:
I have a BA and an MBA from a relatively prestigious university. After the MBA, I got married and chose to spend the next few years in kollel.
After these years, I’ve searched endlessly for top MBA jobs, only to find that the employment gap is a big barrier.
I’ve settled for a job at a small company, with a smaller salary and more limited potential for promotions.
I do not regret my decisions (those were the best years of my life), but I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of companies hiring only new graduates, the career offices of universities help you with that, and when you graduate and don’t go to work right away, most of these companies won’t even look at your resume. You’re not qualified for a higher position, and you don’t fit in the requirements for an entry level position. You’re somewhat stuck.
I still make enough money to support my family B”H and I’m doing fine. But in hindsight, I think that C is a better option.
[Although getting a degree in 6 years might look slightly awkward, you are still a newly graduate when you search for jobs, and that makes all the difference. I don't like option B because it must be very hard to get a degree when you have little kids. Much better to get it early on.]

D said...

With all the respect, JS’ hashkafa is one of the reasons why I grew up modern orthodox and became more RW (you may call it haredi) in my later years.

For a lot of people, in the MO world, being financially successful is the no.1 goal in life, trampling all attempts (even the reasonable ones) to become closer to G-d while being somewhat successful in life as well.

Understandably, JS dislikes all the options above. His hashkafa dictates that one must make the very best career decisions. That includes going right away (after a year in Israel perhaps) to an Ivy League college and then to a fantastic career at a top firm.

On the other hand, many of us view our primary goal in life to perfect ourselves and get as close to G-d as possible.

In that vein, we will willingly take risks and compromise our financial success in order to achieve that goal.

I understand that many have a criticism of those who compromise too much of their career for G-d and, as a result, end up having to rely on welfare. I’ll not comment on those.

However, there are thousands upon thousands of haredim (and MOs too) out there who are honest to themselves and are searching for ways to accomplish both, i.e., a career that allows one to pay his bills, and a lifestyle that maximizes his connection to G-d (such as yeshiva/kollel for a few years).

From that perspective, the combination of college and yeshiva IS an ideal option, better than simply forgoing yeshiva/kollel.

JS, keep in mind that our goals in life are different, so for the letter writer and many of us, what you consider as ideal options are not ideal at all for us.

Mark said...

JS - Lastly, while your son is learning before college, I'd make sure he comes home often so you can try to control bad influences (such as those that may make him not want to go to college). I'd make sure he's keeping his priorities straight. Also, I'd make sure he had some kind of small job on the side just so he can maintain a focus on the real world and also realize what kinds of jobs are available to those without higher education.

There's another reason to have a job while learning and/or in college. And that is, that busy people have less time to be influenced badly. That's why I support learning/college/and working all at the same time (say for 6 years or so). The saying "Idle hands are the devil's tools" is true. Also stressing oneself early often leads to good habits and better performance after the stress diminishes. As a personal example, after spending 4 years in Yeshiva high school with a VERY full schedule (dual curriculum, living in dormitory which implies night seder, lots of AP/college courses, etc), going to college was easy due to the very light schedule. Many semesters I took 8 classes, or 24 credits, because 24 class hours was nothing compared to the more than 40 class hours in high school! As a result, between the credits earned during high school, plus a few summer classes, I was able to complete college (engineering) in 3 years. Also saved a bunch of money that we didn't have (in other words, reduced the debt I graduated with).

Anonymous said...

Full disclosure: Thirty years ago, I was a very young, VERY idealistic baalas tshuva. (Coming from an affluent suburban community, I was nonetheless shocked at the level of materialism rampant even then in the frum community.) Like commenter D, I was determined to get closer to God and being financially successful was a much lower priority, to the chagrin of my parents. Man plans and God laughs; despite my attempt to forgo the materialism of the secular (and religious) world, I ended up with a career that is, while not lucrative, still quite remunerative. One thing I did NOT understand as a young, idealistic, newly religious teenager was the tremendous amount of money needed to support a large frum family. You cannot earn this amount of money without a fair amount of discipline and dedication to your career. Most frum people who work are satisfied to "support" their family with the help of tuition scholarships. Somewhat understandably, they give up on the idea of actually paying full price - unless they are far above average in their earnings. They didn't exactly plan on communal welfare, but they didn't plan on how to avoid it, either.

Miami Al said...

Okay, how would ANYONE know that college took 6 years? Unless you put your high school graduation date on the resume, nobody will know. OTOH, a gap after graduation is HUGE.

There are "fast track" career paths, and "professional" career paths, and "other" career paths. All can work out, but if you do not go from College -> pre-MBA job -> MBA -> post-MBA job, you are ruling out the "fast track" career paths. If you don't get a JD, MD, or start on the actuarial path (or pursue a less valuable professional degree), you are ruling out the "professional" career paths, which leaves other.

If you are MO (which the writer is NOT), and you are in greater-NYC, you need to be making $250k+ by age 30 to avoid community support. That requires either two professionals at $125k+, or a primary breadwinner at $175k+ and secondary at $75k+. Hitting $75k+ is reasonable for a second-tier professional and a lucrative "other" path, or for someone that fell off the fast track. The former is available to those on the fast track, professional tracks, and the best "other" tracks.

Put another way, only about 7.5% of wage earners hit the $175k+ necessary to support a MO lifestyle (with a secondary career for the spouse). If 2.5% of those earners are Doctors/Lawyers/Actuaries, and 2.5% of those earners are the "Fast Track" jobs, that leaves 2.5% of the population on the "other" track to make it.

The numbers suggest that hitting that 2.5% of earners is REALLY tough.

Anonymous BT's experiences are very real. In Kiruv Orthodoxy, anti-materialism is a big selling point... focusing on spirituality at the expense of careerism and materialism is a big selling point. However, once off the fast track, you are OFF, there is no on-ramp, there is a new crop of freshly minted MBAs with no obligations willing to work 80 hour weeks for the "experience." If you take a few years off or have kids young, that track is gone.

That's okay, but if you want to live in a MO community and send 4+ kids to Private School there, and you aren't a Doctor/Lawyer, you are screwed.

Nobody is saying that the career is the end-all/be-all. But self sufficiency is a requirement.

If you make partner in a small tier law firm and can support your family and make donations to the Shul/Yeshiva, you aren't obligated to chase a bigger law firm and a bigger pay check. However, if you are taking charity from the community since you can only afford your mortgage and a token Yeshiva payment (and nearly nothing to the Shul), I question how ACTUALLY observant Jews find it reasonable to consider this person earning "enough."

If a Ben Torah can't support his kids, he's violating the Ketubah, so how is he a Ben Torah? He might have learned HOW to be a Ben Torah, but he certainly isn't fulfilling the obligations of one.

rosie said...

If a Ben Torah can't support his kids, he's violating the Ketubah, so how is he a Ben Torah?

The same way that the Cheerios that sit in a taped up cabinet all of Pesach are considered "sold".

I can understand the frustration of the parents of this 17yr old trying to get solid answers from a blog that mainly attracts people from a different perspective. Unfortunately I have yet to find a blog where Jews who want to dedicate themselves to Torah study can discuss parnassah issues without the MO finding them and telling them that they are about to make their child into another government dependent. There are numerous blogs for the purpose of venting frustration at the RW and heredim and some people are very dedicated to making sure that not a day goes by that they don't blog somewhere against those who basically embarrass them but who actually don't affect their day to day life. Anyone who wants to look for ways to still have a large family, make memorable simchas, give adequate chinuch, etc, without becoming shnorrers, have no one to discuss it with except for some anti RW MOs. The few blogs that do concern RW, such as yeshiva world news, vosizneias, or collive have plenty of anti RW detractors on there as well so I am not sure that the parents of this 17yr old will find lots of helpful suggestions here. There were a few good and positive ones though so my advice to those parents is to sift out the good ones and don't get upset at the rest.

Abba's Rantings said...


"For a lot of people, in the MO world, being financially successful is the no.1 goal in life"

i don't know they MO circles your familiar with, but in my circle there is a subtle distinction between being financially successful and being financially responsible. the end result make look the same to you, but the motive is very different

"many of us view our primary goal in life to perfect ourselves and get as close to G-d as possible"

and to hell with everyone else?
what i mean by this is that if everydone does the minimal amount necessary to support their own families financially, what happens to society at as a whole?
or to put it differently, it bothers me when someone braggs about a relative or friend who was desinted to becoming a top doctor, lawyer, businessman, etc. but gave it up because of a comittment to learn.
talmud torah is very important. so is improving (or at least maintaining) our world.

tesyaa said...

Anyone who wants to look for ways to still have a large family, make memorable simchas, give adequate chinuch, etc, without becoming shnorrers, have no one to discuss it with except for some anti RW MOs.

Are there so few of you that you have to come to a blog that is frequented by Jews of all stripes?

Why don't the parents of the 17 year old boy discuss these things with their actual friends, who presumably know them better than anonymous commenters? Maybe their friends still feel that "college" is a dirty word, as mentioned above?

If I want life advice, I go to people who actually know me, not anonymous commenters.

Heck, why don't they ask their Rav or the Menahel of their son's yeshiva? If so many boys have gone on to great success from this school, maybe he has some good advice.

Don't blame the commenters for weighing in. If Orthonomics wants to become a password-protected blog for RW readers, I'm sure the owner will make that decision.

cohen said...

Rosie said:

"Anyone who wants to look for ways to still have a large family, make memorable simchas, give adequate chinuch, etc, without becoming shnorrers, have no one to discuss it with except for some anti RW MOs"

Rosie I think you've summarized an important point. So, in all seriousness, without being branded as a RW basher, how does one do all those things without being independently wealthy of being the child of someone who is?

Father of THE 17 year old said...

I am back and that you for some of the thoughful comments. It seems that no choice gets 100% of the vote....but at least my son and I can continue our discussion.

A few things:
(1) I did not need to disuss it with my sons RY; I know he would say to learn now and go to college later. I was hoping from input from more 'professional' sources. Tesyaa, I believe one can/should ask advice from anyone and everyone; I did not say I would follow the majority vote of a bunch of strangers, that would be bizarre; I was looking for some talking points on the topic.
(2) Many of my friends (the ones with me in yeshiva during the day and college at night) have kids who will never go to College. Yes, the RW has moved futher right, plus many RW parents are too weak to argue with their know-it-all 17-year olds. I have no explanation for this and it saddens me. Like Cohen above I have no idea why the RW ideal of the 1960-1980s which worked for hundreds of RW men is no longer appropriate. Thankfully, my son can think for himself.
(3) Though I am a little to the right of many commenters, I come to this site to get a reality check. For example, my 17 year old son earns his own spending money (and then some!) as the Baal Koreh in a shul. His sister earns money by lifegaurding at a local pool (Womens-only hours). During the summer they both earned money as staff members in camp (separate camps of course!). By and large, this issue alone makes me an oddball in the RW community I hang out with; Almost none have boys who earn money at all, ever. So I come here to see that I am not crazy after all (and of course for the great ORTHO-articles).

Shabbat shalom, and an apology to anyone I offended.

rosie said...

Cohen, anyone who has followed any of these blogs has seen various ideas that could be put into place such as homeschooling, coop schooling, online schooling, combination, getting more volunteers from the community involved, etc. There have also been numerous ways that communities could come together to make simchas that everyone could afford. There have also been numerous suggestions for how to live within ones means, even if the means are small.
The problem is, and was pointed out on Harry's blog by a Conservative blogger, "it is hard to turn around a million people."
My feeling is that these things turn around slowly, more slowly than most of us have patience for. All it takes is for one community to call upon every member to volunteer one hour a week in their local day school, or make routine symposiums on frugal living. Then others looking for solutions grab onto the ideas and little by little change occurs.

Mother of 17 year old said...

Sorry, I was busy preparing for Shabbos, and haven't logged on in a while.
To clarify:

Yes the boy in question is bright and self motivated.

The boy in question has a (very) part time job even now, even though his parents can support him because we want him to understand the value of a dollar. So does his sister. We do not provide their spending money.

The parents in question have always paid full tuition and God willing hope to be able to do so until their youngest is out of school. With the exception of paying for college we hope to get academic scholarships. If not, CUNY schools are very affordable.

Keep in mind that RW yeshivas have tuition in the 10-12K range which is cheaper than the more MO schools (though admittedly providing a "lesser" secular education- though said son does have 3 APs under his belt)

As for discussing it with our friends - well yes of course we do, but many of them have fallen into the trap described above - they let their sons learn until they get married with no thoughts for the future need to provide. Then I guess it's the inlaws or they have to start school while married. Since we have already rejected that model in favor of the model that worked for us, we turn to a broader audience for discussion.

D said...

Abba's Rantings:

In my several decades in the MO world, I learned very clearly from many people that it's not enough to pay the bills,to have a simple job, you have to "succeed", to go to to the best universities and get the very best jobs out there. There was always this underlying disdain for those with simple jobs.

On the other hand, for those whose goal is to get as close as possible to G-d, there are ways to make do without receiving charity and without making $250k.

In a small community, a couple with 4 kids (that go to a haredi school) can support a family on a total income of 100k without receiving scholarship. Now, that's not too hard to reach if both work and the husband went to college.

So, for these people (myself included), college at night, a few years in kollel, etc, does NOT mean a reliance on welfare, scholarship or charity.

JS said...


I take solace in the fact that I can't be that big of a heretic if my advice was the same as your son's Rosh Yeshiva! Granted we may have different motives...

He's probably hoping your son will see how great learning is and give up on these college dreams while I think it presents the best face to a future employer and makes sure there are no gaps between secular schooling and the job search.

As for the comment above about kids during college or grad school, I think this is likely a given no matter what option you pursue. I'm assuming of course that your son marries young and waits only a minimal amount of time before having children (no, I don't want to get into birth control debates or whether or not a rabbi should be determining such issues). So, if your son marries at say 20-21, no matter what option he pursues there will be a baby in the picture during college/grad school, maybe more than one. It's hard, but doable.

Miami Al said...


Absolutely, RW in a small town for 100k can be achieved by going to school primarily at night... I say primarily because schools have changed and some things are more difficult to schedule. Very few schools that I am familiar with have "night school" any more, most of them schedule classes during the day, at night, during weekends, and on-line, and you schedule as need be.

Indeed, RWMO that use RW Schools but live in a MO neighborhood can get by for four children on $125k or so, again, not difficult for two college educated people.

However, if one is MO, and want their children to receive a full education, not "enough secular education for Parnassah," but a well rounded liberal arts education in addition to Torah, it's more costly to provide that education.

What you are describing is a function not of MO Ideology, but the intersection of Modern Orthodoxy with upper middle class values. In small down RW Orthodoxy, you get the intersection of RW values with small town values, where the emphasis isn't on the rat race, but taking care of your family.

The RW Jews I know from small towns weren't dissimilar from the non-Jews I knew from small towns, the had small town values. Big city professional Jews have big city professional values.

Orthodox describes behavior, not values. The values have been shoe-horned into Orthodoxy, not the other way around.

tesyaa said...

Parents of 17,
It's ironic that you won't go to your son's RY for advice even though he is by definition in the role of a religious mentor. It seems like you are to the left of your friends and your son's yeshiva. In some ways, doesn't even considering college make you a "heretic" in some of their eyes? I know you feel it's OK to call JS a heretic for espousing a more liberal viewpoint with respect to educational choices, but just realize that to some, including many in your own social circles, you are also "heretics".

tesyaa said...

Al, sorry, but "small-town" values do not include making sit-down weddings for 400-600 people with $1500 dress RENTALS.

Dave said...

From an outside perspective I see two root causes here.

Well, one root cause, and one exacerbating factor.

The root cause is hardly unique to the Orthodox world. It is a steadfast denial that choices preclude options. (*)

Mit eyn tokhes ken men nisht tantsn oyf tsvey khasenes.

Decisions have consequences, and they can be long lasting. Decisions have consequences.

Figure out what the core things you want are, and then be prepared to jettison the rest.

For the rest of this, I am assuming that the people in question have no interest in living off of Governmental programs or other sorts of societal largesse. (**)

If you want a large family, you're going to have to be able to support that family. That can mean some combination of:

1. Homeschooling instead of Day Schools.
2. Living outside the New York Area.
3. Aliyah to Israel
4. Delaying starting the family and/or delaying marriage.
5. College or specialized training for a high paying job (note: there are plenty of high paying jobs in the trades, that come without college debt, and include ready career paths).
6. Marry money.
7. Forgoing lots of "necessary" luxuries. Hint, unless you are actually disabled, "cleaning help" is in fact a luxury.
8. Both spouses working in shifts (meaning very limited time with each other) so that the children always have a parent at home.

But then you get to the exacerbating factor. Pressure for social conformity. While there are aspects of the secular workplace that require conformity (for example, in terms of dress in some but by no means all fields), that largely ends outside the workplace. There isn't anything like to pressure to toe the accepted (and apparently ever-narrowing) derekh in all aspects of life. (***)

And that, at least from where I sit, makes it appear much harder for people to make decisions that support their needs. If the right thing for your family is that you end up a frum Electrician who learns in the evenings a few nights a week, and you and your wife homeschool your children so that you can afford a large family, that shouldn't be something that you have to avoid because the risk of communal ostracism.

(*) As witnessed by some exit polls, which had some of the same voters reporting that they wanted lower taxes, a reduced deficit, and an increase in Federal support for job-seekers. Math is apparently still hard.

(**) So, do I get the zchus for all the learning done by bochurim who have decided to not work, and instead live off (in part) my taxes?

(***) The Bergen County Tuition Blog commenters make it clear that this is hardly unique to RW Orthodoxy. The MO appear to have the same issue of needing communal support for any decision they make. Ironically, I don't see this pressure amongst the devout Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons I know.

Miami Al said...


For what it's worth, I have good friends that are nominally Evangelical Christians. Nominally in that their Church is Evangelical, they are very involved, but consider themselves "not that religious." Both are PhD level Scientists, earning good but not great salaries. They didn't start a family until the wife completed her post doc.

She described the same "pressures" that we'd see regarding family, people asking if they needed fertility specialists, etc., when they were married a few years without child. She got asked how she could work a scientist's hours and be a mom, all sorts of nonsense.

The Mormons I know have different societal pressures, but they all have them.

But, the Evangelicals and Mormons I know live in small town America. And one of the oddities of NYC Frum life, is that you have the "small town" aspect of everybody knowing everybody's business, since you are in a "small town" area, even though you live in a bustling metropolis.

The MO Jews I know that live in various parts of Manhattan describe NONE of the societal pressures that the MO Jews in a "small town" enclave of NYC describe.

Miami Al said...

tesyaa said

"Al, sorry, but "small-town" values do not include making sit-down weddings for 400-600 people with $1500 dress RENTALS."

I went to the wedding of a couple where he was from a middle-America state in a small town. The meal was filled with her family, the meal was buffet style catered by family members in the business, no pomp and circumstance. I attended a wedding of a couple from two well to do MO families in "fancy" neighborhoods, it rivaled the secular wedding I once attended in the Ritz Carlton ballroom.

The Brooklyn Jews I know act like the Italians from Brooklyn I know... they both wear overpriced clothing, though the Italian suits are higher quality, the price is similar.

Sorry, not seeing Frum circles as that different. Upper middle class America values conformity. I see this with my parents friends, a daughter of a professional married a tradesman, and the family was scandalized... didn't matter that he made a great income and provides for his family, he wasn't educated, and therefore was "beneath" them.

How is that different from elevating a Section 8/WIC seeking Yeshiva student over a skilled electrician? It's NOT just income, those married to secular scholars (PhD / Professor track) are seen as marrying well, despite plumbers and electricians making WAY more money.

Mother of 17 year old said...

We know what the RY advice will be so we don't have to ask him. So why not listen to him? Well that's how we ended up here on this blog and not some RW blog where people think that the Rabbis are infallible. We ask advice and then make in informed decision which may or may not be what the advisor has told us.

I also think you misunderstand why we called JS a heretic. It is clearly written in the mishna that the learning of Torah is perhaps that most important of all the mitzvot (Talmud Torah Kinneged Kulam), to even compare that to watching tv? It is known that many of the great Rabbis of the past (the Ramabam, Chofetz Chaim etc) would work long enough only to provide for their needs, then learn the rest of the day. We are not on their level and and we need to save for the future, but surely it is one of the tenets of the religion that Torah learning be accorded a high priority.

I wouldn't say we are to the left of our friends, they all went to college. Their daughters go too. It is just their inability to convince their sons that there will one day be a reckoning. Keep in mind their children are basically the same ages as ours (maybe 19 years old) and are still of the teen mindset. And perhaps the choice of Yeshiva for high school - while college is not encouraged, it is also not forbidden in my son's school, but many of our friends have their sons in a school which forbids college.

tesyaa said...

It is just their inability to convince their sons that there will one day be a reckoning.

Mother, the day of reckoning could be tomorrow if the parents cut off the funds. I don't, chas veshalom, mean they kick their sons out of the house and leave them to starve. But if they make it clear that they will REFUSE to support the child if college is not in the picture somehow, most kids will come around.

After all, most of these kids don't have jobs (as noted above) or earn very little. They can't really meet even their current needs without parental help. Your friends should cut off the funds (for clothes, transportation, etc) unless college (part time, full time, whatever) is in the picture. If it's important to them.
have a great Shabbos!

rosie said...

Mother of boy,
I have not found one RW blog where the rabbis are considered infallible. Most rabbonim that I know have nothing to do with blogs. It might be great if they did set up a blog and invited some dialog on current issues in the community but so far, I haven't seen it happen.

Leah Goodman said...

(Talmud Torah Kinneged Kulam), Oy oy oy... No - it doesn't mean that Torah learning is more important than any other mitzva. Look at the list that precedes it:
Kibud av v'em, gmilut chasadim, bringing peace between people. see - Even if a child is learning Torah, they are obligated to stop in order to perform kibud av v'em.
So no, Torah does not have precedence above all else, and that particular mishna proves the point.

Second... how about some real apikorsus here...? Why not send him to Yeshiva for a year and then to YU where he can get credit for the year... or if that's too expensive, to Bar Ilan (in Israel), and have him study at the Kollel there. You can get a full degree and the kollel pays something - up to full tuition plus partial room and board, depending upon which program he does - no need to make aliya - you can do it on a student visa, so no worries about the army either.

Of course, he could be influenced by uneducated am-haaretz 'srugies' like me while he's there.

but he could learn a little about balance from the likes of Rav Shlomo Shefer who discusses this very issue

heresy, of course...

Miami Al said...

I was thinking about "able to afford it" this Shabbat, and what that means. I think the parent means, "he can live in my house, I can feed him, and supply him with spending money," which I suppose is "support" for a single man...

However, these years are the cheapest that they will EVER be in his life, so being able to "support" him isn't real... REALLY supporting him would be "making him whole" from pushing off school/career by 1-4 years. If you figure that over the course of your career, "wages" in general go up by 1% over inflation, and your personal income probably gains another 1% factoring in raises (obviously it could be 10%, 0%, 0%, or 4%, 3%, 4%, not 5%/year)... so if the child is putting off his career from 4 years, really, to "support him" that means both paying his living expenses AND putting enough money away for him to pay him the 8% of lifetime salary that he loses, since his income will be permanently 8% lower by not working those 4 years.

Also, JS did NOT say that learning Torah was no more valuable than watching TV. He said that as a thought exercise, pretend instead of learning Torah it was something equally "worthless to future employers," in this case watching television.

Everyone's blinders go up when the topic is "learning," so switching to another personal indulgence was a useful way to frame the argument.

But calling people heretics is WAY more fun.

Supporting someone on a personal growth year for 1 year is a 2% hit to lifetime income. In otherwards, don't compensate him for sitting home at 18, he's skipping the workforce year at 22, which means he earn's a 22 year old's income at 23, so he loses a year of "peak earning years," not these "minimal earning years."

And that's why this turn in "frumkeit" is financially devastating.

tesyaa said...

Al, I was thinking about this over Shabbos too.

I can't understand why these boys (posters' friends' sons who refuse to consider college despite their parents' wishes), who are so steeped in Torah that they insist on learning full time, nonetheless are willing to rebel against their parents' wishes by refusing college altogether. If they are so steeped in Torah, how do they justify this violation of Kibud Av v'Em?

I'm sure that there is some religious explanation they can fall back on, but it sure seems as if their rashei yeshiva are encouraging them to violate this mitzvah in the name of "Torah".

tesyaa said...

Al, your comments about pushing off earning being "financially devastating" will fall on deaf ears. You'll no doubt get a lecture about how truly frum Jews don't worry about the rat race, the career path, material needs, etc.

My mother always used to tell me "you can't live on love". I would add "you can't live on learning". My father used to hum a ditty with the words "love makes the world go round". I'm sure that the retort back to me will be that "learning makes the world go round".

JS said...

This whole conversation is a waste of time, frankly. The poster wrote this letter and honestly expected to just get a list of A's, B's, and C's, with maybe a sentence or two of explanation and encouragement along the lines of "A - Your son will get his degree and then can do some serious learning!" They didn't come here to get lectured and they didn't come here to get another perspective. They thought this was a "safe" blog to post their question to, without any criticism or even critical thinking.

The irony here is so thick you couldn't cut it with the sharpest knife. You have a set of parents here who simply don't fit into the mold of the community they have chosen. Although they refuse to admit it, the community has taken a sharp turn to the right and they haven't gone along for the ride. Their friends have lost control of their children to the rabbis. They find it frightening that none of these boys are willing to go to college. They worry deeply about the influence the rabbis have on their own son (and hence reject choice B out of hand). They send their son to this yeshiva, but won't even talk about the issue with the Rosh Yeshiva. They are doing their best to conform without conforming. And then they come back to the blog to check on the comments and they don't see A's, B's, and C's, they see criticism. But, thankfully, the person doing the loudest criticism can be easily dismissed as a heretic due to a misreading of his comments. So, you dismiss him as a heretic and you feel better. After all, you're far more religious and frum than he is. You're not the one who doesn't belong and doesn't fit in, he is. You can't be honest with your friends or your friends' sons that they're making terrible mistakes and you can't tell the Rosh Yeshiva you think he's dead wrong or you'd get branded as the heretic.

It's OK though, don't apologize. Don't admit you misread and misunderstood even though it's pointed out to you several times already. Instead, give a self-righteous speech about how you're following in the footsteps of the Rambam and Chafetz Chaim. You're not to the left, you're not a heretic. I am.

So, go on and ignore all the advice and calls to think critically about the issue. Ignore Al's advice about losing peak earning years. Ignore Leah's advice about YU or Bar Ilan. Ignore tesyaa's advice too. After all, you didn't come here for advice, you came here for reassurance.

So, here you go: It will all be OK. Your son will do some excellent learning and do phenomenally well in college. He'll get the great secular job you want him to get outside of chinuch and he'll be able to support his family fantastically. You did the right thing.

Anonymous said...


As I have said before, I am part of the community in question, and even though no one will argue that it has not taken a sharp turn to the right, most people there (even younger) are working. It is the bracha of Lakewood stealing all the Kollel Guys!

And I also know the Rosh Yeshiva and agree with the OP for that question as well. The question here is more subtle.

(Being that I am one of the freinds, based on the OP speaking to me about it over Shabbos) The boy is Genius level, and he will probably (Bezras Hashem) succeed in whatever he does. I told the father that the child should have time to find himself; that would tilt my choice towrds starting slowly.

I did a similar thing myself, by starting slow, taking a break to go to Israel, then finishing and getting a decent job (Granted its not 200K (yet), but I do eat supper with my wife and children every night, Beli Ayin Hara), and we pay full tuition Plus.

I think you are seeing this through your own eyes; meaning you expect 25K tuition. If you knock that down to 8-12K, not going on the banker track is more doable.

As far as the friends' children, I seriously believe that is their problem. Some of them are going to mdical school, others will stay in learning. As long as they don't ask me for money and stay out of my community schools and don't lean on my tuition payments, I don't really care.

P.S. The OP knows I read this blog (and post) often (not as anon!), so he did expect some of us to see this.

(Anon 9:16)

Anonymous said...

A boy can be a "genius", and still not have the brains to resist rebbeim who stress how much of a genius he is, thereby convincing him to stay in learning forever. This happened to a young relative of mine. I am sure the parents are concerned about this possibility.

The more of a genius in secular studies you are, the more the likelihood you are also an "ilui". There are a lot of competing uses for your tremendous brainpower.

Anonymous said...

For me, the most troubling aspect of the kollel issue is the encouragement of dependency. Looking for a "rich" schver, deals for years of support, being ok with elderly parents delaying retirement; it seems to encourage some really terrible midos.
I have no problem with someone who wants to study latin, Torah, music, or just travel for a number of years. Financial considerations may not be a priority for everyone. However, encouraging a life of dependency is really disturbing.

Avi said...

Back to the original question:

I hear the argument for "learning first" to minimize the gap between college and work because in my experience, employers do not value Torah learning, and it can be harder to find a job when you aren't in the college graduate pool. Learning is not necessarily a negative, especially if you call it studying for Rabbinic ordination, because that's a real thing, whereas kollel has no secular equivalent. But it simply has no relevance to work experience.

That said, I'd still suggest college first. In today's environment, the danger is that learning pushes college out indefinitely, or that early marriage/children makes immediate income a priority over education investment. It doesn't always work out this way, but my BIL got his degree, passed his CPA, then sat and learned while he got married. As the children came, he ramped down his learning and built up his hours. Did it impact his lifetime earnings, as Miami Al charges? Probably. But he got his education and his learning in, and he's supporting his family now. I'd be more comfortable encouraging that path than learning first and pushing off the possibility of parnassah.

Truth be told, I don't like either of those options. I would really prefer YU or learning-while-in-school, which offers the best combination of Torah and preparatory education. I don't see why it should be mutually exclusive. The arguments that you must be focused solely on Torah to get 'to the next level' fall flat on me, even though I did it myself (spent 1.5 years in Israel learning full time before going to college).

Cohen said...

Avi said:

"Truth be told, I don't like either of those options. I would really prefer YU or learning-while-in-school, which offers the best combination of Torah and preparatory education. I don't see why it should be mutually exclusive. The arguments that you must be focused solely on Torah to get 'to the next level' fall flat on me..."

As I mentioned above, it falls flat on me too. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me what was so terrible with the "learn-by--day-go-to college-at night" approach that worked for so many thousands of bnei torah over several decades. I don't see what great harm befel those men and the families they raised. (Heck, it's their children that now want to learn indefinitely, so they must be pretty frum)